Supporting local farmers: a foundation in trust

Throughout college I haven’t eaten that healthy. I have gone through spells of cooking nice dinners, eating more vegetables and meat than just macaroni and cheese, but my budget runs out and I find myself back on the pasta isle.

The thing is, I love healthy food. I remember writing on a “favorite food” category in 3rdgrade that my favorite foods were tomatoes and okra. Maybe that is just my southern roots speaking, or the fact that I know good food when I taste it.

In my family it is a tradition for a large spread on thanksgiving and Christmas where all of the family comes together and eats, breaks bread and laughs together.

But what I love about the way we make food is that the recipes are passed down and most of the ingredients are fresh from the garden my grandparents have had their entire lives.

Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, green beans, squash, okra, potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries, field peas, peppers, dill and more.

My grandparents never sold their produce, and it wasn’t the source of their income. They shared produce with neighbors, but it was to support themselves through the good part of produce season and can the vegetables to carry them through the winter.

This summer I worked at a produce stand in Banner Elk and realized that many local farmers depend on locals to buy fresh meat, cheese and produce so they can continue to eat themselves.

The difference between store bought tomatoes and an heirloom tomato picked off the vine that morning, called a Cherokee purple – there is simply no competition.

This summer I ate pretty much local for every meal ­– local bread, peanut butter, jams, berries, and much more fruit and vegetables ­– and enough tomatoes to make me sick.

I realized that eating healthy is sometimes more expensive but it makes more sense in reality.

I knew where I was getting my food from. I knew the faces of the people who grew my food and I trusted them to make sure it was healthy and clean.

I spoke to these farmers, continually bought from them and traded with them. It felt right and it was a relationship built on trust, knowing that they were going to do their job right to ensure my food was antibiotic, hormone and pesticide free, or that it was where they said it came from. I, and the produce stand, had to do our job to support them as well, to tell our customers the truth about our products and to form relationships that were built on something other than trying to make a sale and profit.

These relationships are vital to local businesses and especially in this industry, trust and integrity is vital.

The summertime is beautiful for local produce and produce stands, especially living in an area with tourists that come and stay for months at a time.

But winter time is a tough season and many farmers go into hibernation as well.

I wish that buying local wasn’t such a fad, but a known reality that it tastes incredibly better, makes you feel better, is safer and overall helps a family rather than a corporate business that gets their vegetables from across the country in mass quantities.

Winter time is hard for local produce, but I still find it important to support the diverse ways they continue to try and make revenue in the winter through art, jams, meats, breads and more.

Buying local is more than just a hashtag. It is supporting the economy you live in and ultimately bringing back what should be ours anyway ­– the knowledge that our food is safe and good to eat, raised and cultivated by people who care.